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When the heir to the Hapsburg throne was found shot to death in that hunting lodge named Mayerling in 1889 a lot of the hopes and dreams of a future generation were blasted for all time. But the bigger tragedy was that Crown Prince Rudolf was such a weak vessel to support those hopes and dreams. In point of fact he was quite unstable, some like young psychiatrist Sigmund Freud practicing in Vienna might have called him mad.
It's the mad quality that Omar Sharif does capture in his portrayal of Crown Prince Rudolf. His companion in death was young Catherine Deneuve playing the minor league baroness who accompanied him in death. She's good, but she's a bit old for the part. Maria Vetsera was 24 in real life, possibly Mia Farrow might have been a better choice.
The sets and costumes and certainly the locations are as authentic as you can get. But Mayerling moves ponderously slow and sluggish. A better pace could have improved it.
James Mason and Ava Gardner play emperor Franz Josef and the Empress Elizabeth who was known as Sissi all her life. Her childhood name never left her because in many ways she was also as big a child as her son. The Emperor and Empress live apart for most of the year with Elizabeth jaunting about all over the continental hot spots. If Sharif wants to have his fling, he only has to look at mother who never settled down. In many ways Ava Gardner is the best one in the film, she's cast perfectly because she too never really settled down in life.
Also memorable is James Robertson Justice whose girth and and booming mirth made him be perfectly cast as Edward the Prince Of Wales who is also waiting to ascend to the throne of Great Britain and about whom many hopes are kindled even in the constitutional monarchy that the United Kingdom is. He's not exactly in the confidence of Queen Victoria, but he's learned to very cheerfully accept his fate and be patient. He was about 40 year patient and that's what Rudolf would have had to be as Franz Josef reigned until 1917. I'm surprised James Robertson Justice never played Bertie in a film about him, he was so right for the part.
Speculation has abounded for years about what drove the Archduke to do what he did. This impressive, but slow version of the story will feed the speculation of the movie going public and historians.
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